The latest on the coronavirus outbreak for March 2

Wedding gown boutique owner Imma Caiano serves bride-to-be and customer Denise Magmer and Magmer’s mother, Sylvia, in Bad Kreuznach, Germany on Tuesday. The shop was among the businesses that reopened after a months-long lockdown. (Ralph Orlowski/Reuters)

Canada’s chief science adviser issues warning about B.C ‘experiment’ with vaccine interval

British Columbia’s decision to extend to four months the interval between first and second doses of three different vaccines amounts to a “population level experiment,” Canada’s chief science adviser told CBC News.

Mona Nemer told Power & Politics host Vassy Kapelos on Monday evening that the data provided so far by Moderna and Pfizer on their vaccines were gathered when the first and second doses were being spaced three to four weeks apart, not three to four months apart.

“I think that it’s possible to do it. But it amounts right now to a basically population level experiment. And I think it needs to be done as we expect clinical trials to be carried out,” said Nemer.

She said that while such trials might show that it’s safe to extend the interval to four months, Canada is not there yet.

“For now, we simply don’t have enough data that tells us this is an effective strategy, particularly when we think that we have variants of the virus that are emerging that are not as well recognized by the vaccine,” Nemer said.

Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry, in announcing the decision, said data from the B.C. Centre for Disease Control, and countries around the world, shows “miraculous” protection of at least 90 per cent from the first dose of the Moderna or Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine.

Henry said the B.C. CDC has been exchanging data with colleagues across the country and similar results are coming from Quebec, as well as from the U.K., Israel and other countries.

Other Canadian jurisdictions are said to be considering the length of intervals between doses.

Speaking to the Washington Post, though not specifically about the B.C. decision, U.S. infectious diseases expert Dr. Anthony Fauci said the science does not support significantly delaying a second dose for those vaccines.

A two-shot regimen creates enough protection to help fend off variants of the coronavirus that are more transmissible, whereas a single shot could leave Americans at risk from variants such as the one first detected in South Africa, Fauci said in an article published Tuesday.

From The National

British Columbia will delay giving people their second dose of COVID-19 vaccine up to four months in order to vaccinate more people sooner. While some say the decision is ‘risky,’ Dr. Bonnie Henry says data shows people have strong protection for several months after the initial dose. 2:55

IN BRIEF

AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine doses set to arrive, but several questions remain

The first batch of Canada’s supply of the AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine is set to arrive Wednesday — but public health officials still have some rollout issues to sort before they can deliver those shots, specifically after an advisory committee recommendation that the shots not be used for those 65 and older.

While Health Canada has determined the product is safe to use on all adults, NACI said there isn’t enough clinical trial data available to determine how effective this product is in preventing COVID-19 infection among people in this older cohort.

Dr. Theresa Tam, Canada’s chief public health officer, said Tuesday NACI is prepared to update its guidance “as they see more and more real world data accumulating,” but for now the AstraZeneca-Oxford product should be directed at younger Canadians.

“Don’t read their recommendations as sort of static. But this is what they’ve recommended at this point,” Tam said. “Just watch this space.”

Health officials will be under pressure to quickly establish priorities for distribution of the AstraZeneca shots because 300,000 of the 500,000 doses set to arrive this week from the Serum Institute of India are set to expire in just a month’s time.

Maj.-Gen. Dany Fortin, the military commander leading the federal government’s vaccine rollout logistics, said the shots will be “expedited as quickly as possible” to prevent wastage.

And ultimately it will be up to the provinces and territories to decide how to use these AstraZeneca shots.

Read more about the situation 

How Canada compares with similar countries on a number of pandemic indicators

Canada’s death toll from the pandemic, and the related questions it has posed regarding the safety and conditions in the long-term care industry, have often dominated headlines in the past year.

But, writes CBC’s Evan Dyer, when historians look back on this pandemic, they’ll likely look at a number of measurements to see how developed countries coped with the global health crisis.

On that note, a number of measurements could better assess how Canada has fared so far with the pandemic compared to the five other Western members of the G7: the United States, the United Kingdom, Germany, France and Italy.

With respect to deaths per capita, Canada has experienced a less severe crisis than each of those countries.

As well, the peak of intensity of coronavirus waves can be measured by the highest recorded daily caseload per capita. At the pandemic’s height in the U.K., U.S. and France, COVID-19 was infecting almost one person in a thousand every day. In Canada, that number never reached over one in 4,000.

The six countries have taken different approaches to pandemic-related shutdowns and layoffs. Canada was among those that went big on public spending, while others held back. And some countries will struggle more than others with the debts they have accumulated.

While all of the countries experienced unprecedented spikes in the number of unemployment claims as the pandemic took hold, by some indicators Canada has fared worse than all of them except perhaps the U.S.

As has been detailed extensively in recent weeks given the vaccine supply issues Canada has experienced, the country has also vaccinated fewer citizens than comparable nations, though the trend line is inching upward.

Read and see more about the data 

Canada suffered its worst economic year on record in 2020

Canada’s economy shrank by 5.4 per cent last year, official data from Statistics Canada showed Monday, making 2020 the worst year for the country’s economic output since record-keeping began.

The data agency said Tuesday that Canada’s gross domestic product — the total value of all goods and services it produced — grew by 2.3 per cent during the last three months of the year, but that was nowhere near enough to offset the record-setting plunge after large parts of the economy were shut down in March and April during the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic.

For comparison purposes, Canada’s economy contracted almost twice as much as the U.S. did during the COVID-19 pandemic, despite the U.S. seeing far more cases per capita.

Preliminary data suggests the U.S. economy shrank by 3.5 per cent last year.

Since last summer, economic activity has slowly and steadily grown.

Statistics Canada says the economy grew at an annualized rate of 9.6 per cent in the fourth quarter of last year, down from an annualized growth rate of 40.6 per cent in the third quarter.

Financial data firm Refinitiv tabulates that on average, economists were expecting 7.5 per cent growth for the fourth quarter.

For January, Statistics Canada said its early estimate was for growth in the economy of 0.5 per cent.

In a note to clients, Douglas Porter, an economist at the Bank of Montreal, credited a big rebound in resource sector activity, a raging housing market and strength in manufacturing and wholesale trade.

Read more about the situation 

Stay informed with the latest COVID-19 data.

THE SCIENCE

AstraZeneca-Oxford’s COVID-19 vaccine not recommended for seniors, Canadian committee says

The National Advisory Committee on Immunizations (NACI) has recommended against using the AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine in people 65 and older, although Health Canada has authorized it to be used in adults of all ages.

The committee, which makes recommendations to governments on the use of newly approved vaccines for humans, said in documents posted Monday it does not recommend the vaccine for those 65 and older “due to limited information on [its] efficacy” in that age group.

NACI said its recommendations are based on independent advice and reflect the best current available scientific knowledge.

Dr. Isaac Bogoch, an infectious disease physician and member of Ontario’s COVID-19 immunization task force, said not having enough data isn’t the same as saying a vaccine isn’t effective.

“This is science in real time,” Bogoch said. “You can have multiple groups look at the exact same data and come to different conclusions.”

The vaccine has had positive results preventing hospitalizations and deaths due to COVID-19 in the United Kingdom, says Dr. Sumon Chakrabarti, a specialist at Trillium Health Partners in Mississauga, Ont.

“We’ve seen real-world usage in the U.K., for example, and the results were really good including for people who are even 80 years of age and older. So I’m not certain what to make of this, it’s still approved for people 18 and over, and I just want to see how this plays out. But I would not hesitate to recommend it,” Chakrabarti said on CBC News Network.

More clinical trial data on AstraZeneca’s vaccine is also expected in the coming weeks from the U.S.

AND FINALLY…

Nova Scotia may have to wait, again, to host women’s world hockey championships

All appearances indicate that the 10-country women’s championships slated for Halifax and Truro, N.S., beginning April 7 will not take place on that date.

“We are working now on a postponement,” International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) president Rene Fasel told The Associated Press on Monday. “We saw it last year with the virus as soon as the weather was warmer, maybe the restrictions will be different.”

The IIHF wants to postpone the event until May. The two cities in Nova Scotia were to host the tournament in the spring of 2020, but the pandemic’s first wave was raging at the time.

Hockey Canada’s director of national teams Gina Kingsbury told The Canadian Press she views a postponement as an indicator both that the organization and the IIHF are committed to making the tournament happen, instead of cancelling it a second time.

“I really do feel the postponement is to make sure it happens … and to make sure we’re in a good position to be able to host and to do so in a safe manner,” she said.

“There’s definitely a process in place and I think Hockey Canada is going through the right process step by step to ensure we will have a world championship in May.”

There are several issues to work out. Hockey Canada obtained federal government permission to alter that restriction for December’s spectator-free world men’s junior championship in Edmonton, where players and personnel were walled off from the public in a secured zone and underwent regular testing for the virus.

But holding the event in Nova Scotia presents another challenge as it requires people arriving from outside the province to isolate for 14 days, which isn’t the case in Alberta.

Meanwhile, 35 Canadian players began their training camp in Halifax on Monday, with the roster to be whittled down over time. Since Canada finished third in the 2019 world championship in Espoo, Finland, the team has played five international games against the United States.

Read more about questions surrounding the tournament 

Find out more about COVID-19

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